Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series that will feature aspiring young chefs and talented young foodies who represent the future of the culinary scene in south Louisiana. We’ll talk to them about their style, how they interpret food and what they hope to bring to the kitchens, dinner tables and restaurants of the capital region.
One of the first things you notice about George Krause is that he seems older than his 25 years. That may be due in part to the fact that he has a husky frame and a beard. But it’s not just his countenance that gives him an air of maturity and experience.
Rather, it’s that Krause possesses an intensity about his passion for cooking and mixology, along with a highly sophisticated palate and an uncanny ability to blend flavors in a way that suggests he has spent years studying in culinary schools and slaving over the stoves of high-end restaurant kitchens.
But Krause has done neither, at least not yet. He grew up near Mandeville, on the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, and graduated from high school just seven short years ago. He learned the fundamentals of food preparation from his mom, whom he credits with being an able cook though “heavy-handed on the salt.”
As for the rest of his skill, he is self-taught.
“I got my first cookbook when I was 10 and have been interested in food (and drink) ever since,” Krause said. “Reading through cookbooks over the years, I started to notice patterns with ingredients - how you tend to see ingredients paired together in many different recipes. I started playing with those pairing in cocktails about six years ago, and have been experimenting with flavor pairings in food and drink ever since.”
Much of that experimentation - at least on the beverage side - has taken place behind the bar of Doe’s Eat Place on Government Street in midcity, where Krause has been head bartender since the restaurant opened four years ago.
There, he is like the proverbial kid in the candy shop, with a supportive boss, a receptive clientele and a relatively endless supply of ingredients with which he can create both exotic aperitifs and classic-style cocktails with a fresh, new twist.
And create he does, concocting such signature drinks as the Rye Bother, which blends a muddled paste of honey, basil, sugar and vanilla extract with rye whiskey, ginger ale and a garnish of lemon zest. It’s a crisp, sophisticated cocktail that delights and stimulates every taste bud as it goes down.
Another favorite is the Watermelon Vodka Flip, a seasonally appropriate aperitif that combines freshly pressed watermelon juice with vodka, sugar, lime, vanilla and egg whites.
“I like to refer to myself as an old-school bartender,” Krause said. “I love to bring back classic cocktail in their original forms, using fresh ingredients. A lot of the mixers people use today in drinks such as Grenadine, Rose’s Lime “Juice” and sour mix are artificially flavored, bad-tasting convenience products. I like to make cocktails based off those types of ingredients, but using all fresh, instead.”
As for his experience in the kitchen, Krause has gotten most of that in his own, modest apartment, though he will occasionally borrow the restaurant kitchen at Doe’s to whip up a treat for staff or friends.
Up until now, he has been a recreational cook, a home chef. Beginning this fall, however, he will enroll as a student at the Louisiana Culinary Institute.
“My sister has been telling me since I was a kid I needed to go to cooking school, so I am finally doing it,” he said. “I think it will be wonderful for both my mixology and for my cooking.”
For an amateur, Krause’s cooking is as impressive as are his cocktails. His Chicken Kiev, though a relatively simple recipe, is a perfectly balanced, buttery blend of fresh herbs oozing from crispy fried chicken breasts.
His Stuffed Jalapeño Peppers are spicy, piquant and delightful, while his Amaretto Truffles combine bitter and semisweet chocolate with cream, sugar, amaretto and slightly salty pistachios. The result is a decadent combination of textures and flavors.
But then, that is what Krause aims for when he creates both his dishes and drinks. His objective is not to “create something wonderful” but something that is a multifaceted experience of flavor.
“I start out by aiming for a pairing of flavors and then do my best to add to it to make it round or multifaceted,” he said. “The more rounded the flavor the more aspects it has to it - salty, sweet, piquant, pungent ... even temperature and texture are important.”
Krause can get cerebral when discussing flavors and how they work together. But then, that is probably why his dishes and drinks are so good. He makes musical analogies when explaining his food philosophy and likens food to a song.
“You can break food down the same way you break down the components of a song,” he said.
More specifically, Krause likens the melody to the main flavor of the dish, and the harmony to the supporting flavors. The rhythm is the basic cooking method that enables all the flavors to work together, and the bass is the one, key ingredient in the dish that provides a small amount of flavor but a majority of the substance.
The vocals he describes as a small ingredient that may not be required but can make or break the dish, depending on whether it is used correctly.
“Last but not least is the stage presence,” he explained. “It has to look good on the plate.”
While Krause spends a lot of time thinking about flavors and how to make them all work together, he often just goes with his gut when in the kitchen or behind the bar, having fun along the way. It’s a philosophy he intends to carry with him through his program at LCI this year, and into his future professional career.
What specific path that career will take remains unclear. Krause isn’t sure if he wants to devote more attention to the culinary arts, mixology or both. Whichever direction he goes, however, he plans to build on what he has taught himself in order to get to the next level.
“It’s kind of like flavors,” he said. “I’ve kind of learned to slowly build instead of just jumping into. I start with flavors I know work well and then gradually build on it until I know it’s just right.”